Magazine excerpt: L&D needs to communicate more

Communication is a key skill for L&D but I fear we don’t give it enough attention, says Donald Taylor.

What are the core skills of L&D? 

Thirty years ago, I could have given you a simple answer, based on what I did every day. It was mostly writing and delivering courses. Now, I’m not so sure.

As chair of the Learning and Performance Institute, I have been involved in the development of the Capability Map, a view of the skills required for a modern L&D department. Launched in 2012, it has just undergone a major refresh, and is relaunched this month. In analysing the data from over 3,000 people who assessed their skills against the map in its 2012 format, a few things became apparent. 

The data shows the roots of L&D are still very much in the design and delivery of classroom courses. More people assessed themselves against these skills than any other, and the average ratings for these skills were the highest across all the skills. 

In contrast, the skill ‘marketing and communications’ was notable for two reasons: it received among the fewest self-assessments, and the average score was low. In other words, not many people think they can do this, and even they don’t reckon they’re much good at it.

L&D must be able to communicate up, sideways and outwards.

This might not matter if marketing and communications was an ancillary; an add-on to the core skill of classroom delivery. Once, I would have agreed with that. Now, I think it’s the wrong way around.

Last year, when examining 16 years of case studies of successful learning technology implementations for a book I was writing, I found only three skills were essential at each stage of the project: leadership, project management and communications. Without these three skills, especially the last, whatever L&D does either fails to reach its goal, or fails to have any impact.

In a world where L&D’s role is increasingly not to teach, but to give people the means and support to learn for themselves, communication has become a core skill.

Here ‘communication’ does not mean mailshots asking people to take an online course. Real communication means engaging in a dialogue, listening, making an effort to understand, persuading and, in turn, being open to good argument. And we must be able to communicate in all directions.

L&D must be able to communicate up; reaching senior leaders to understand what matters to them, and to make the case for a course of action. We must be able to communicate sideways; with managers, to find their performance issues, and to help them understand what learning at work can and cannot do. 

And finally, if our role is to help people learn, then we have to be expert at communicating outwards; to employees, building dialogue so that we can understand how to support them better.

We’ve come a long way in the last 30 years. What mattered most when I stood in front of my first class in 1987 matters less now. For our profession to flourish, we must consider what skills will be essential for it in the future. 

For me, at least one of those key skills is clear.


About the author

Donald H Taylor is a 25-year veteran of the learning, skills and human capital industries. Visit his website here 


This piece appears in the October 2018 edition of TJ magazine. For a three-month trial just click here


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